by Nivedita Balaraddiyavar Rank 303 CSE-2018
Essay Marks 148
This is what the UPSC expects in an essay. Not very elaborate, but we get the idea. Essay this year has been the reason or a part of the reason many didn’t get the service/rank they wanted or missed the list as well. Whereas , for me, I think Essay is the paper that got me a rank. I have tried to gather my thoughts regarding the paper in one place and I hope it helps in some way at the least.
Before you read, if you are a beginner, please go through these articles which cover basic aspects.
Few things to keep in mind (elaborately covered in Anudeep sir and Mittali madam’s articles) :
- How we perform in the paper depends on the topics that we choose and how well acquainted we are with them. So, choose wisely based on your understanding of strengths and weaknesses.
- It is important to stick to the topic and the core idea that we are arguing. Many a times, simply not staying with the core thought and digressing with peripheral ideas may make it less appealing. For example, the topic this year “Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere” , we may end up writing much about poverty alone and not elaborate on the ‘threat’ aspect.
- Understanding each term in the statement is very very important. Many mistakes happen and 125 marks are at stake because of this misunderstanding. See the Hindi translation and/or try to recollect contexts in which those words are used before. If still unclear, please choose a different topic. e.g. the word customary was misunderstood by a friend (“Customary morality cannot be a guide to modern life”).
- Practice is what makes a difference for many who consider themselves weak in this paper. Write and read your own essays after a week or so, you’ll figure out areas which you want to improve upon. Also, if someone is available, like a mentor or a friend, do ask them to read and work on the feedback. I personally have asked Vinay sir and my friends to read my essays. I feel self-assessment plays a significant role. Others can tell us what needs to be done but not the ‘how’ part. We need to work on it on our own.
- How we begin and end is important as we already know. There’s a primacy and recency effect which suggests the same. To leave a lasting impression, work on these.
- Use lot of examples to substantiate your arguments, and also explain the context of these examples clearly. Remember this is not GS but an essay. It’s very important to tell the examiner what you mean by a certain statement and this adds clarity to your thoughts. This is something that I’ve learnt from the feedback.
- Interpretations of the terms adds dimensions to your essay. For example, in the poverty essay, I interpreted it as poverty of ambition, poverty of empathy and so on. Similarly, in case of second essay, morality as a concept is defined differently. So, tell the examiner what you understand before you start putting out your ideas and arguments.
Based on the above aspects, I think being relatively stronger in both the topics that I chose and having thought about each of them elaborately before the exam worked in my favour. I have been very lucky in that case. The same person may not be able to do justice to all the topics because one can’t be thorough with everything. Having said that, we need to ensure that we cover basic aspects to write thoughtful essays (Refer above articles if still unclear). One lesson that almost everyone learnt this year was to not ignore the philosophical type of essays. So, if you consider that as a weakness, make sure you work on such topics now.
Aspects like how to structure the essay, how to write an introduction, sub-headings or not, balancing various sides of an argument, and so forth, are already covered by many rank-holders. So, I will try to cover what I wrote in the essays and how people can improvise if possible.
I made a small note of what I wrote in the essays briefly after the exam as seen here. I started both essays with quotes which closely related to the arguments that I would make in the essay.
SECTION B – How I wrote:
- Started with a quote , Rumi’s quote : “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” The quote here related to the ideas of morality. If you can’t think of a quote or an anecdote, don’t force it please. Start with the best thought that comes to the mind and keep adding to it in case of philosophical topics. I personally feel that structure is not as important in topics like those in Section B. What matters is how you connect your thoughts and move from one idea to another. Keep practicing until you get a hold of it. It’s difficult in the beginning but you will get there. Read articles/blogs online, or read novels if you like, on such topics like Joy, Morality, Principles, Character, Power, Utility, et cetera. I am picking these terms from past year questions:
- In topics like these, it is more like Ethics paper. Your personality and ideas matter to a greater extent. We all have unique ideas and thoughts to share and do feel free to put them on paper. It should be such that the examiner is able to enter your world full of your own thoughts and appreciate them even if not agree with them entirely. (Although restrain from extreme thoughts, it is a risk we take to impress them ?). For example, last year I saw someone agreeing with the thought that “Fulfillment of ‘new woman’ in India is a myth” and arguing her case with examples. Also, the other side of argument was given but more weightage to the former. Similarly, in the Customary Morality topic, I agreed that it can’t guide modern life and gave lots of examples and barely wrote the other side of it but one paragraph (That is, it may bring stability but individual rights still matter more). I was worried about not balancing arguments but in retrospect, I think they do appreciate if we write freely and effectively doing justice to the topic.
- Also, luckily I remembered the judgement on Section 377, particularly the words by CJI Dipak Misra. (As to how social morality can’t guide modern life).Reading judgments by Supreme Court may also help in expressing better if you are illustrating them in the essay. I have used almost all examples based on SC cases. (Adultery, FGM, Section 377 etc). In addition, I mentioned examples from novels as well suggesting the status of women in 18th century – the subjugation, coverture, discrimination based on ideas of social morality and used them to argue better.
- Psychology as an optional has helped me with content. I wrote about Kohlberg’s theory of moral development in lay terms. This way, if your optional has ideas that you can employ, do make good use of them. But don’t heavily lean onto them. (Read Gaurav sir’s article for this).
- I saw many people using terms like ‘Constitutional morality’ but not showing clarity while expressing their thoughts. I myself wasn’t sure about the term which was used many times in the judgement. So, I instead wrote about personal moral code and how each one of us are capable of making reasonable judgements of the world around us, thus emphasising upon individual well being and “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.
I think most people have an idea regarding such objective-ish topics. Many have also written enough articles about them to help us . Anudeep sir’s article has covered it beautifully. For instance:
In section A, an addition I think I made was to add a philosophical touch to it. I gave an importance to non-monetary exchanges of values to tackle poverty; trust, loyalty and affection are such values for which I gave examples. So, the ideas were connected this way. Also, defined clearly what prosperity means to me and how it is related to the quality of life and the idea of the world in which we want to live.
So, the core idea is that we need to write our thoughts freely and organise them better. Practice helps in the latter but for being able to write better ideas, we need to think beforehand about various issues and values, especially those that have appeared in past year questions. So, make a list of such topics and prepare to think. While reading for GS, keep essay in mind as well and try to think what topics can be asked based on every day events. Customary morality is one such topic.
All the best!
Link to one of the essays that I wrote – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uDEMSHqfzun0901kGiUifU5HFwUrMDaq/view?usp=sharing